Full Metal Yakuza

Full Metal Yakuza is an ultra-violent Japanese film from the prolific director Takashi Miike. Released in 1997 this low budget movie is like a cross between a Yakuza (gangster) flick and Robocop. The action is fast-paced and relentless and Miike is nothing if not inventive as he takes us on a bizarre gore splattered adventure in this strange blend of dark comedy, cheap sci-fi and sick violent action.

The main character is Kensuke Hagane (played by Tsuyoshi Ujiki) a raw recruit in a Yakuza family. He idolises an older Yakuza named Tosa (Takeshi Caesar) who is much feared in the underworld. The two meet at the outset of the film and Tosa asks the young Hagane to look after things while he is away before murdering several rival gang members. The action cuts to seven years later and we find that Hagane is something of a failure in his chosen profession; he is useless in a fight, commands no respect from his peers and can´t even satisfy his girlfriend.

Hagane with a gun to his head

When Hagane learns that Tosa is about to be released he can hardly contain his excitement and he goes along to pick up the older man from prison. Unfortunately for Tosa while he was languishing in jail his family merged with the rivals he attacked at the start of the film and they want revenge. The newly freed man has little time to enjoy it as he and Hagane stumble into a trap and are both shot several times. Hagane survives because Tosa shields him and when he awakes he begins to realise that something about him is very different.

Hagane has been completely rebuilt by a mad professor. He is bullet proof, incredibly strong, has detachable eyes and eats metal for fuel; oh and for some reason he has been equipped with an obscenely huge penis. Despite the protestations of the unfathomable professor Hagane is hell bent on revenge and embarks on a lengthy killing spree.

This is a truly strange film, an uncomfortable and slightly disjointed mixture of violent action and dark comedy. Takashi Miike has certainly done better work but considering the low-budget nature of this effort it is impressively inventive. The most obvious parallel is Robocop but this time the robo-man is a failed Yakuza with some serious mental problems.

After exacting a pretty severe revenge Hagane heads for the beach, drawn to the grave of Tosa he meets his mentor´s girlfriend Yukari (Shoko Nakahara). Hagane has been rebuilt using parts of Tosa and the unhappy Yukari seems to sense this. Her love for Tosa has not dimmed over the years but Hagane cannot give her the peace she desires. Instead she seeks revenge for Tosa´s death on the big boss responsible and is captured, tortured and repeatedly raped. This rebuilds a burning anger in Hagane and sets the scene for his final slaughter of all the remaining characters.

Gory death by the sword

The storyline is somewhat absurd and the film jumps around quite wildly in terms of the timeframe although Miike ensures that it is never difficult to follow the action. His direction is superb as always, injecting a real sense of energy and reality into the messy fight scenes and even pausing to take in the beautiful scenery. It is clear he has his tongue firmly in cheek during this production, the chosen hero is deliberately pathetic and there are hints of his character evident in the later Miike film Ichi the Killer. This work is obviously not meant to be taken seriously but the violence is graphic and disturbing in places, particularly the scenes involving the unfortunate Yukari.

The acting here is a real mixed bag. Tsuyoshi Ujiki is not going to win any awards for his portrayal of the constantly slouched and oddly animated Hagane; he pulls funny faces throughout and cannot be taken seriously. This is also true of the mad professor who comes across as a comedy character. However both Takeshi Caesar as Tosa and Shoko Nakahara as Yukari bring some sense of realism to their characters, they both have a certain dignity and believability which is lacking in the rest of the cast and this elevates the production.

The special effects here are very cheap and it shows but they struck me as oddly effective and there is no doubt that those responsible did a great job on the budget they had. They´re certainly visceral and those seeking gore will not be disappointed.

Full Metal Yakuza is a surreal film, manic and unrelenting but lacking the spine-chilling edge of Audition. This is an adrenaline fuelled revenge tale, like an antidote to Robocop and fans of Miike are likely to enjoy it just don´t make the mistake of taking it seriously.

The film has been re-released for Western audiences by Artsmagic DVD with enhanced picture and sound quality and a range of extras including interviews with Takashi Miike and Tsuyoshi Ujiki. It may not be a classic but it is certainly unique and unmistakably bears the hallmarks of the warped genius responsible.

Reviewed by Simon Hill

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